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AMA 'crisis' warning debunked in two states.

Two new studies of closed medical malpractice claims in Texas and Washington have found no evidence of a medical malpractice crisis, although the American Medical Association (AMA) has declared both to be "crisis" states.

Texas researchers who analyzed 15 years of closed-claims data from the state Department of Insurance found "remarkable stability" in medical malpractice litigation and concluded that massive premium increases were driven by insurance industry dynamics, not claims. (Bernard Black et al., Stability, Not Crisis: Medical Malpractice Claim Outcomes in Texas, 1988-2002 (Max: 2005).)The study found:

* Adjusting for population growth, the number of large claims (over $25,000) remained constant between 1991 and 2002, as did payouts and jury awards per claim.

* Adjusting for the amount of health care spending or the number of doctors, the number of large claims dropped and the number of small claims dropped sharply.

* The rate of claims per 100 Texas physicians dropped from 6.4 (1990-92) to 4.6 (2000-02).

The study also found that medical malpractice was a tiny factor in health care costs. Total 2002 payouts were about 0.6 percent of total Texas health care spending.

The researchers found little, if any, connection between insurance premiums and claims. Premiums have increased dramatically while claims have remained stable. Therefore, the researchers concluded, tort "reform" is "unlikely to prevent future insurance crises."

In Washington, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kriedler released a report analyzing a decade of claims data from the state's top five insurers, accounting for more than 90 percent of the malpractice market. (A Report to the Insurance Commissioner: Medical Malpractice Closed Claim Study (Feb. 2005), available at MedMalDataCall.pdf.) The researchers found that medical malpractice claims had increased only gradually through most of the period and had actually dropped over the last two years. It also found:

* Seventy-three percent of the 10,073 claims were closed without any compensation to a claimant.

* Only 50 claims were decided by a jury in favor of a plaintiff.

* When compensation was paid, 65 percent of claimants received $100,000 or less, and only 2 percent received more than $1 million.

Kriedler told the Tacoma News Tribune that the report shows there is no malpractice crisis in Washington. "Changes happen on a gradual basis," he said. "I think [the data] leans a little bit more to the trial lawyers' side."
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Title Annotation:State report
Date:May 1, 2005
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